Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - Long Life

Article excerpt

When I was a child there was never any doubt that I would go to a boarding school. My father, my uncle and my elder brother had all gone to Eton, and it was assumed that I would eventually go there, too; but I would first be expected to board at a preparatory school with a good record for getting its pupils into that famous establishment. And so it was that from the age of 8 to 18 I spent more than half of every year away from home, living in communities of other boys in the care not of parents but of schoolmasters. My two sisters went to boarding schools, too, just as our mother had before them, and it didn't seem to matter whether or not we children were happy boarders; boarding school was our inevitable fate, and nobody questioned that it was the best thing for us.

Since then, however, that certainty has been steadily eroded. Boarding schools have been increasingly attacked on two fronts: first, of course, for being bastions of privilege and nepotism through which rich people can buy huge advantages for their children over those whose parents can't afford the fees; and, second, by contrast, as symbols of old-fashioned parental detachment, relics of a time when the English upper classes preferred to see as little as possible of their children. So, as well as the political objection to public schools for being unfair and discriminatory in favour of the rich has been a feeling among many who can afford their fees that their children would be better off at home rather than being dispatched into institutional care.

This trend has been discernible in my own family. Among my three siblings and myself, only two sent all their children to boarding schools: my wife and I sent our two daughters to day schools, and my elder sister and her husband sent their two sons to Holland Park Comprehensive in London. But when it came to the next generation, my four grandchildren, my brother's seven grandchildren, and my elder sister's 12 grandchildren were all educated at day schools. Only my younger sister's grandchildren went to boarding schools.

This was doubtless in many cases due to their unaffordability - in the 16 years from 1992 to 2008 private school fees rose by 83 per cent, and at most boarding schools they are now well over £30,000 a year - but I think that the factors mentioned above were the predominant ones. And so low is the standing of such schools in public esteem that paranoia has set in among them. We have had the resignation last year of Frances King, the head of Roedean, the girls' school in Sussex where my mother once went, because, she said, 'it is quite hard work to continue to be always on the wrong side of public opinion'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.